The Essence of HR Is Workforce Planning - Here's an Overview for Serious Practitioners

This Week in HR, I am focused on Workforce Planning, or WFP, for two clients. Workforce Planning is an expansive term for one of the most strategic and key functions of HR: Maintaining sufficient and competent staff levels to achieve the current and future demands of the business.   WFP’s strategic value is hard to capture in a single measure--it's big. It is the essence of Finance, Talent Management, Ops, and every other aspect of the business. Think about any change in product or service at your business and how it happened… it was probably a result of two things, shifting market demands and changes in the workforce. For the competent HR pro, methodological business planning connects these forces.

A year ago, when I was in-house, I stressed (perhaps more than I ought to have) over Workforce Planning. My stress derived more from the exercise of persuading the owners of the company that taking time annually to critically analyze market trends, business vision and performance alignment, key employees, compensation & rewards, and skills & competencies. I knew its criticality and they often came around when turnover peaked or when employee relations challenges flared.

Planning is not my forte. Planning as an intentional discipline, however, can help ensure smooth business operations and, over time, one picks up a real awareness of Workforce Planning. As I go about other HR business, I think in the context of standard WFP questions and concerns. Things like average age of the workforce, missing skills, labor costs, talent supply, and changing market conditions are always in top of mind and, resultantly, my recruiting, branding, and other HR functions are much better informed and managed.

In WFP, first on the agenda is analysis. Analyze various aspects of your workforce: Supply, Demand, Gap, and Solution.






·Talent concentrations (e.g. too many senior managers)

·Labor costs

· Re-deployment, development, cross-training

·Competencies needed to meet anticipated external demand and conditions

·Number of employees needed to meet demand. – when / business areas?

·Missing competencies.

·Is the workforce too big / too small?

·Vulnerabilities / threats / weaknesses

·Money allocated for future competencies

·Build, buy, or borrow the needed talent?

·Internal / external talent fulfillment

·Are the needed competencies specialized?

·What’s our recruiting strategy?

·Comp strategy?

·Training strategy?

·Duration of need


Other useful analyses are compensation, turnover, and engagement. Knowing your turnover rate can bring to bear on your training, compensation, and recruiting strategies. Have a strong understanding of present state in these areas is a solid footing for prioritization of tactical objectives—the actions determined by Workforce Planning. Chaos and stress are almost certain results of poor planning.

Another very important component of WFP is job descriptions (JDs). In many ways JDs are among the most important documents your HR department is tasked to develop and maintain. You can outline your tactical objectives, the to-do’s in the following manner (for example). It’s simple and keeps the main things the main things.

Future Vision (Seven Years)

Current State

Staffing Gap

All (group of EEs) will have international experience and second language proficiency.

% to have met this target.

% remaining to be addressed.

Tactical objective: By [date] what percent will meet the target. By the same time, the gap across all employees will be reduced from % to %.

These exercises are cursory, but this is a structure that can be customized and elaborated to meet the needs of your organization or business, regardless of the size.

WFP is a gratifying challenge. It’s not easy to think through the myriad questions, concerns, driving forces, business needs, and you don’t have a crystal ball, but it is feasible and extremely strategic and imperative for responsible HR management. Those are a lot of big words, but I just can’t think of any other way to say it.

I do WFP for many clients and have been in the habit of planning staffing for as long as I’ve been in HR, many years back having started in Recruiting. I’d love to help you.

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